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Legislature boosts education funding

Increase exceeds proposals by House, gov.

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO

Massachusetts state legislators passed a budget Monday with a substantial increase in education funding that will boost aid to districts with high concentrations of low-income students, including Boston.

The $268 million increase in state school spending brings the overall state K-12 education budget to $5.18 billion, substantially higher than the $5.11 billion in funding proposed by Gov. Charlie Baker and the $5.16 billion proposed in the House budget.

Education activists who have been pushing for increased state funding expressed support for the one-time funding increase, but vowed to continue pushing for the adoption of the Promise Act, a funding reform bill authored by Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz that would phase in multi-year increases totaling more than $1 billion, in keeping with the 2015 recommendations of the Legislature’s Foundation Budget Review Commission.

“The Legislature is moving in the right direction on public K-12 education funding in the FY2020 budget,” read a statement released by the Fund Our Future coalition. “Increased state aid, and especially more funding for low-income communities, is long overdue, and legislators are clearly hearing the voices of students, parents, and educators.”

The funding increase comes amid increased pressure from municipal officials, teachers unions and education activists. The 2015 Foundation Budget Review Commission report found that the state’s current funding formula, originally set in 1993, has not kept pace with increasing costs of special education, instruction for students speaking English as a second language, and rising health care costs for school staff and administrators.

Schools in Massachusetts are funded by a mix of state and local revenue. The state sets a foundation budget for districts — a baseline of spending that takes into account the needs of each district. In districts where property taxes cannot cover the foundation budget, including predominantly low-income cities such as Brockton and Springfield, the state pays for the majority of school funding. In Lawrence, for example, the $147 million in state education aid received last year accounted for 73 percent of the $182 million in spending on the city’s school budget.

While wealthier districts have been able to meet the increased costs of running their schools systems by spending above their foundation budgets, cities more dependent on state aid have struggled. In Boston, a district with a high percentage of students with disabilities and English language learners, state aid has decreased sharply as charter schools here have increased their enrollments, taking the majority of the city’s share of state education aid.

American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Beth Kontos said the Legislature’s budget is a step toward meeting the state’s obligations to adequately fund public schools.

“Today’s budget is a significant down payment towards the equitable preK-12 school funding that students across Massachusetts so desperately need,” she said in a statement sent to the news media. “Legislators must now build on this progress by passing a comprehensive education funding bill that commits the state to school funding equity over the long term.  Specifically, our students need legislators to fully implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Foundation Budget Review Commission (FBRC), including setting the “low-income increment” at the maximum rate recommended by the FBRC, as the Promise Act does: 100 percent of the base rate in the poorest communities.”

The budget is now in the hands of Gov. Charlie Baker, who has 10 days to review it.

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